In early 2015, a small group of community leaders sat around a table to brainstorm ways that we might improve our community. It was great conversation…if you enjoy talking in circles and running into dead ends.
We were asking all the typical questions and stumbling over all the typical answers. So we started asking the difficult questions. The ones that seemed to be neatly tucked away, just below the surface where the real issues were.
For example, we took a look at the amazing food pantries in our city. They’re doing a great job, yet they all report that the demand for food is on the rise. You mean to tell us that despite all of their efforts, the hunger problem is not going away? This put a damper on our feel-good meeting. It made us stop and really think. So instead of asking, “How can we help feed more people?” we started asking, “Why are people hungry in our community?”
One hard question led to another and we realized we needed to change our approach.
Before we could think about finding solutions, we had to identify exactly what our greatest needs were. But we also determined that we’d need to identify our community’s greatest strengths so we could leverage them to help address those needs.
As leaders, we were convinced. If we really wanted to tackle the major issues and improve the quality of life for everyone, it came down to finding the answers to two pressing questions.
What are our greatest needs that we can address together? And, what are our greatest strengths that we can support together?
It was this conversation that fueled the launch of The Waxahachie Project.
In the Fall of 2015, more than 60 of Waxahachie’s most influential leaders from every sector of the city – business, education, government, non-profit, and the church – came together for lunch and more importantly, to open the conversation about how we would collaboratively find the answers to these two questions.
Interest was stirring. Energy was high. Momentum was building.
We determined that it would be imperative to collect reliable, objective data that would guide our discovery process. We also knew that strong, authentic relationships would be key. For stakeholders and decision makers to embrace the findings, the research would have to be done in a non-biased way and allow city leaders, across every sector, to speak into the process.
So we brought in an outside consultant to help.
The Florida-based group, OneHope, is a global organization that is well-respected for their research methodology. In addition to facilitating local community research assessments, they have also completed the largest study ever done on the attitudes and behaviors of youth around the world. Their findings are shared among community organizations in order to design effective programs based on clearly defined and measurable outcomes.
That’s exactly the kind of expertise we needed.
Throughout the fall and winter months our consultants spent time in Waxahachie, working alongside city leaders to develop a comprehensive research plan to help guide us toward our desired outcomes. They also provided research tools and training to ensure excellence in implementation.
With a passion to invest in our city’s emerging leaders and a desire to engage in strategic community outreach, it only made sense that Southwestern Assembly of God University stepped up to fill the critical role of providing boots on the ground. Hundreds of SAGU students spent their spring 2016 semester canvasing the city, conducting well-designed surveys, one-on-one interviews, and focus groups with both leaders and residents.
As the initial discovery phase has come to a close, along with an additional round of focus groups with key leaders to provide further insight regarding the initial findings, it is now time to begin discussions that will enable our city to prioritize and collaborate around the most strategic outcomes, bringing measurable benefits to the entire community.
To truly make a long term impact, we’re convinced that this must be an ongoing endeavor, not a one-time project.
Drawing upon strong relationships, and guided by trusted research findings, the only thing left to do now, is work together. And the road has been paved to ensure that it’s a lasting and fruitful journey.